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Devil in the detail: No driver’s licence for driver

A Gladstone man who drives but who has not held a valid driver’s licence for 23 years because he believes the digital photo, signature and bar code are the “mark of the beast” has failed to get the Human Rights Tribunal to recognise licences as discriminatory.

A report of the decision, released on Thursday, said that Stephen Butcher, an orthodox Christian, believed that the requirement for him to hold a licence with digital aspects contradicted his freedom from discrimination according to section 19 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

He also believed his rights to freedom of thought and freedom of religion were breached.

Butcher gained a driver’s licence in 1972, and in 1985 his licence was replaced with a ‘lifetime’ or ‘synthetic’ licence which had an expiry date of August 31, 2026.

His lifetime licence was cancelled in 1999, after which he was required to hold a photo driver’s licence in order to drive legally. However, he never held such a licence due to his religious beliefs.

Butcher’s belief came from reading in the Book of Revelation.

The instruction in the New Standard of Revelation 13:18 read: “This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred and six hundred and sixty-six.”

However, Butcher’s reading of the Book of Revelation is based upon a fragmented manuscript of the New Testament written in Greek in about the third century, called Papyrus 115.

Butcher read the third line in Roman rather than Greek and read the numbers as containing ones or zeros, therefore appearing in a binary computer form.

It was the binary version of the photograph and the signature on a driver’s licence, combined with the barcode, that Butcher believed represented the mark of the beast.

To back up his argument, Butcher held a number of beliefs that questioned whether photo driver licences improved road safety.

“Mr Butcher argues that the Crown has not been able to demonstrate road safety improvements arising from the requirement to hold photo driver licences,” the report said.

“He pointed to the lack of evidence that photo driver licences have had any effect on the number of fatal and serious injury accidents by unlicensed and disqualified drivers.

“Instead, he said that road safety impacts are just as likely to be the consequence of an increase to the driving age, a graduated driver licence system, a reduction in legal alcohol limits for driving, and better roads.”

In the decision on Thursday, the Tribunal concluded that Butcher was not treated differently because of his belief.

“While we have concluded that the definition of religious belief does not extend to cover its manifestation, that issue has no bearing on the outcome of this case unless a failure to accommodate Mr Butcher’s religious belief itself amounts to a prima facie breach of section 19 of the Bill of Rights Act,” the report said.

“Mr Butcher is not treated differently either in terms of his belief or the manifestation of that belief.

“The laws which he claims are discriminatory are framed in neutral terms. Others who share his objection to the photo driver licence requirements but not his religious belief are treated in exactly the same way.”


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George Shiers
George Shiers
George Shiers is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age interested in politics and social issues. He reports regularly on a range of topics including infrastructure, housing, and transport. George is also the Tararua reporter and helps cover police, fire and court stories.

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